Betty Davis, pioneering funk musician, dies at 77

Associated Press

NEW YORK – Betty Davis, a daring and pioneering funk singer, model and songwriter of the 1960s and 1970s, who is credited with inspiring the historic fusion of jazz and more contemporary sounds of Miles Davis, her husband from the time, died at the age of 77.

Davis died early Wednesday after a brief illness, according to Danielle Maggio, singer, adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh and associate producer of the 2017 documentary “Betty: They Say I’m Different.” Davis spent part of her childhood in Pittsburgh and settled there for the second half of her life.

Sometimes called “Madonna before Madonna,” Davis was the rare woman to make funk albums in the 1970s, and her three albums from this era were showcases for her fearless personality and sexuality and her insistence on controlling her material. and its image. Davis’ producer Greg Errico, former drummer for Sly and the Family Stone, would describe his style as “down and dirty funk”. His records sold modestly at the time, but their impact was often cited in the decades that followed.

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“The scope of his influence and sonic lineage is immense,” author and critic Hanif Abdurraqib tweeted on Wednesday. “You’ve heard it, even if you think you’ve never heard it. I’m glad we got it.

Born Betty Mabry in Durham, North Carolina, she was still a teenager when she moved to New York in the early 1960s and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She would eventually find work as a model for Seventeen and Glamor among other magazines and meet Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and many other musicians. She was also releasing her own work, including the singles “The Cellar” and “Get Ready for Betty” and she wrote “Uptown (to Harlem)” for the Chambers Brothers.

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She dated Eric Clapton and Robert Palmer among other rock stars, but was best known for her time with Miles Davis. They were only together for a brief period in the 1960s: he alleged – and she denied – that she had had an affair with Hendrix. But his influence on Miles Davis and the future of jazz lasted much longer. Miles Davis would credit her for opening it up to the sounds of Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, among others, leading to her classic 1970 album “Bitches Brew” (a title she said was her idea), which helped to launch the genre of jazz-fusion.

“His world was progressive jazz, plus he was a lover of classical music, so there were a lot of things he didn’t notice,” Betty Davis told The Guardian in 2010.

She didn’t release any new music for decades, but she wasn’t forgotten. “Betty Davis” and other ’70s albums have been reissued, and her music has been heard on “Orange Is the New Black” and other television series. In 2019, she broke her long silence with “A Little Bit Hot Tonight,” a funky mix of Eastern and Western influences that she wrote, arranged and produced and asked Maggio to perform.

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“It was a wonderful, surreal experience,” Maggio told The Associated Press. “As an ethnomusicologist who writes about Betty, it was amazing to see her music-making process firsthand. She taught me the song and taught all the musicians their parts. She was very hands-on and was a amazing producer.

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